I received a book for review a couple of weeks ago for Theology Forum that I was particularly interested in highlighting here. I have been on a sacrament kick as of late. I, as many of you no doubt, come from what feels like a traditionless-tradition that “inherited” a vague and ambivalent viewpoint of the sacraments in general, and the Lord’s Supper in particular. This is why, for the purpose of seminary students, laymen and (for the sake of) professors, I wanted to highlight IVP’s new book, The Lord’s Supper: Five Views ed. by Gordon T. Smith. This particular “five views” book offers perspectives from Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Reformed, Baptist and Pentecostal theologians. The volume follows the same format as the other “five views” books, where each author develops a concise essay of their position, followed by critical analysis from the other authors.
This book was interesting on a number of fronts, but two elements stood out. First, my initial reaction to the views offered was, “Is there really a distinct Pentecostal view of the Lord’s Supper?” I was encouraged when several of my friends made the same comment, and again when several of the contributors to the volume posed the same inquiry! Second, in a couple of the critical engagement sections, the authors were clearly learning something new. In many of these books, it is clear that the perspective essays offer no new knowledge to the other authors, as if they had been sitting around for years discussing this amongst themselves and just decided to throw it into a volume. In contrast, take Roger Olson’s comment on the Roman Catholic view: “I found Brother Jeffrey Gros’s exposition of Catholic beliefs about the Lord’s Supper to be quite enlightening” (36.) But, importantly, Olson also adds, “Anyone familiar with Catholic theology has to wonder whether Gros’s interpretations of Catholic doctrine are the same as the magisterium’s…” (36). This, of course, is an important question, but the answer is less so. What this volume does well, save one contributor, is to show how within each tradition there is real overlap and points for conversation. I don’t wish to diminish the real differences, but to highlight the reality that our theological positions on these matters can really be served by careful listening.
This point is of course obvious. But in my experience, when it comes to subjects like church and sacraments specifically, this is rarely done well. An example of this is the Lutheran contributor to the volume. His essays were unnecessarily polemical, lacked generosity and treated his own position as the only obvious choice. His views, particularly exegetical views, were seen as the only way to be true to the text, as if everyone else was pushing some foreign agenda while he was listening with unadulterated ears. On the contrary, take Brother Jeffrey Gros’s statement: “In fact, we are divided over the Lord’s Supper precisely because of our fierce attachment to Christ and our understanding of the relationship of the church in Christ’s unique mediatorial role in salvation” (14).
That all being said, this is a great introductory volume, even though the essays tend towards historical analysis rather than theological location and construction (which I would have liked to see more of). It would certainly make for a great introduction in a classroom, and would, no doubt, break down assumptions about various viewpoints. Likewise, the diversity of view, particularly in adding a Pentecostal view, makes for an interesting read. The admission at the beginning of the volume is noteworthy, that there is no real representative perspective from any of these views (the view expected to be so, the Catholic view, was most questioned on this very point!), and as one contributor suggests, there should be a sequel, Five (More) Views of the Lord’s Supper! (8).
In light of this, I would love to hear your thoughts. I think I’ll create another post on the Pentecostal view just because everyone has found it so curious that the volume has added it. I would be particularly interested, not in how your tradition has understood the Lord’s Supper, but more specifically, how it tends to function for your community. In other words, what does this sacrament proclaim for your congregation?